Rita King was born 21/10/1933. She died 11/12/2018.
Rita King was born 21/10/1933. She died 11/12/2018. Contributed

'Raw grief stopped me telling this story earlier this week'

IT'S the little things that people remember most.

My Mum was laid to rest this week, and the story that keeps rising above the grief, amongst the dozens I've heard, is from a pastoral care worker at the home where Mum lived.

As Mum was carried into an ambulance to be taken to hospital and knowing she was near death, her final words to that woman - Michelle - was of gratitude; she thanked her for staying with her.

To Mum, it was more about the time someone had spent with her, than her impending death.

Raw grief stopped me telling that story in her eulogy this week. But it continues to be those little stories about Mum that flower in her death.

Teaching a grandchild to knit. Sayings we all use, but have never understood - like 'What is this - Bush week?'. A respect for people on the land. A kindness that meant we were repeatedly reminded of the sacrifices made by those, in aged care homes, who tend to the sick. The importance of keeping cherished friendships alive.

In the case of those in care, it is the same little things that make all the difference - and are routinely dismissed in any discussion about aged care, where money is too frequently the cog that turns the wheel.

A ratio of workers to patients has to be introduced, so that our elderly aren't waiting ridiculous periods in discomfort. But it's just as important so that those without visitors have a few minutes each day when they can talk to someone who will listen.

The abuse that has been uncovered in some homes has to be weeded out, and criminal sanctions introduced against the perpetrators.

And the lid needs to be ripped off the toxic culture of covering up, which we've seen repeatedly, when revelations surface of outrageous charges, including a cap on the number of adult pads a resident can use.

Each week, on average, I receive an email from a reader whose Mum or Dad, suffering with dementia, has escaped their room and been found wandering in a nearby street.

That should not happen and homes that are registered to care for those with dementia should have their licence revoked, if they become repeat offenders.

But in the debate we so urgently need on aged care, there's room for another discussion which goes to the heart and soul of caring for our aged.

What about improving the conditions - and pay - of those nurses and care providers who understand that a kind word and a gentle rub might be the most important treatment some resident needs today?

This Christmas, while many of us are tucking into a big turkey, they will be showering those who cannot, and spoon-feeding others, for a pittance of the pay many other industries receive. Mum reminded me of that, during every visit.

What about overhauling the process of getting into a home, so that days don't disappear under paperwork that many of our elderly do not understand.

And opening up more publicly-funded beds so that our elderly get to the top of the waiting list, and into a home, before their funeral.

Through this week's veil of sadness, little stories of kindness towards Mum kept popping up like fireworks, in a night sky.

A volunteer called Marie, who visits St Vincent's Care Services (Lourdes) home in Toowoomba for hours and hours six days a week. She helped keep the spark alive in Mum's eyes, to the end.

Jim, the cleaner; a larrikin with a story for every room. A pastoral care team who are able to bring comfort to those trapped in immobile bodies.

A local doctor Pungu Mwilambwe who stepped up when Mum's own doctor of 20 years stepped down from her care.

And a team of nurses, mostly casual, who wore a smile every single day.

People say it's how you live that counts. But I've learnt over the past year, it's also how you die that matters.

When the end comes, money doesn't count for much. Neither does a lot of other stuff we put value on.

But good care does. So does dignity. And nothing can top a kindness, born of understanding - all hard to measure but still valuable, maybe the most valuable of everything we offer in our aged care homes.

A happy Christmas to those who do.

Rita King, born 21/10/1933. Died 11/12/2018

- Madonna King is a journalist and author of seven books, including best-seller Being 14. She grew up in Dalby. 
 



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